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New Year Wishes

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Words have amazing power, no matter if they are in books, advertisements or magazines.

I started reading fashion magazines when I was twelve. I had barely begun to develop into an adult and was thrilled with the promises and guidance the magazines offered – especially every January.

Most of the magazines claim first, there was something wrong with you.  Second, if you just follow the advice in the magazine you and your life would be so much better!

And I bought into each and every promise – for years. I thought if I could only have bouncy hair, lose weight in the right places and have the correct outfits my life would be perfect and just like the scenes the models played out in the magazines.

January followed January and my magazines changed from Seventeen and Young Miss to Glamour and Cosmo. And although the models’ ages and price of the clothing changed, the articles stayed the same. They still promised happiness, a fulfilling life and only good hair days if I would follow their minute, contradictory and often down right incorrect advice.

I wish I could say that as soon as I got out of school and began working at my first proper job, I stopped reading all the magazines’ silly advice and was happy with the person that I was. I wish.

Instead it took me until I started writing marketing articles for an import company. It was then that I discovered that the more ads my boss would purchase from a certain magazine, the more mentions of the import company’s product would be in said magazine. I had never made this connection before then. It was also at this time that I discovered magazines set their themes for each month a year in advance – and how many times they would simply retitle and edit many articles so they could run them again the next year. It was then I realized how gullible I was to have bought all those fashion magazines for so many years (decades!).

It is January and resolutions are still swirling in the air. Maybe you have kept yours up until now, maybe you have already given up. No matter the case, I hope that you walk by every magazine stand with your head held high. Because you are enough. You have always been enough. Don’t let any empty promises ever convince you otherwise.

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Overcoming Fear or What Running a Marathon and Writing a Novel Have in Common

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On October 12th I was one of 45,000 participants who ran the Chicago Marathon. It was a beautiful fall day with almost enough sunshine to make you consider moving out of the heat of H-town to cooler areas of the country. The 26.2 mile course was flanked with bystanders, cover bands and an Elvis impersonator.

Even with all the entertainment, the beautiful weather and the wonder that is Chicago, I had time to think. Running for over five hours will give you plenty of time to mull over just about everything good and bad going on in your life. During this time, after I decided to learn how to play chess and before I felt like my legs would fall off, the strong parallels between running and writing sprang to mind. Specially, the similarities between writing a novel and running a marathon.

1. You must be delusional.

If you seriously thought about how much pain and how much work writing a book or running a marathon would be, there is no way anyone would attempt either endeavor. So in order open a new document or lace up your running shoes, you must convince yourself that the job in front of you won’t eat your lunch. After all, running a marathon is just like running a mile – 26.2 times. Writing a book is a simliar exercise. You write one sentence, a few gillion times.

2. You must be stuborn.

You will be writing or running when other people are either sleeping, watching television or otherwise enjoying themselves. Often you will also want to be sleeping or watching television. I’ve learned to allow only a 2-3 minute pity party before powering up the MacBook or pulling on my running shoes.

3. You must have stamina.

You have to accept that these projects – writing and running – do not come easily. Now it is true that sometime when I run I feel like I have Hermes’s winged sandals laced to my feet instead of my size 9 Wide Width New Balances. Unfortunately this feeling usually lasts only a minute or until the song on Pandora finishes. Same with writing, sometimes it comes easily – but let’s not kid ourselves. It usually doesn’t. Instead, you must condiition yourself to work through the pain.

4. You must rest your body.

Many times in my new mother sleep deprived state I would doze off at the keyboard. This does not make for the best of writing. One’s muse does not enjoy listening to you snore. In the same way, if you are staying up too late or waking up too early, you won’t be able to put in the same atheltic performance your body could perform if only given enough sleep.

5. You must fuel your body.

Same goes for the calories you injest. Even though I believe whole-heartedly that chocolate can solve most of the world’s problems, too much sugar or caffeine can sicken your body and your spirit. Eat good foods and your body will perform creativiely as well as physically.

6. You must do it for yourself.

Both writing and running for most people are efforts that go largely un-noticed by the general population. Only one person won the Chicago Marathon out of the 45,000 that ran this year. And (spoiler alert) it wasn’t me. Same goes for the Newbery or Printz or even the awesome simple prize of publication. It just doesn’t happen often enough to feed the soul. Your running and your writing must do that alone.

7. You will be scared but you will do it anyway.

Creating art and performing athletically both have the ability to produce a heaping pile of fear. This can hit you in insidious ways. My fear of creating often manifests through procrastination and not “feeling” like writing or running. When I am on deadline it is amazing the number of things I have to do before I sit down at the computer to write. The same goes for training for a race. Many a day will dawn when you don’t “feel” like running. The awesome thing about feelings concerning art or exercise is that you don’t necessarily have to have them to run a few miles or write the next chapter. All you have to do is, well do it.

Elizabeth Gilbert, my hero and favorite TED talker, once said that in order to be creative “one must believe in impossible things”. Which was why I decided to attempt the marathon. I truely didn’t believe that I could do it. This doubt was and still is exactly like the creative doubt I experience on a daily basis. Now with the marathon completed, I’m able to remember the fear of not being able to finish the race.(my hands were shaking so bad at the start of the race I spilled my sports drink down the front of my shirt). And when I remember that fear, the self-doubt that pops up everytime I sit down at the computer is much easier to ignore. After all, I ran a marathon. Writing a novel should be a piece of cake.

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Interview with the Creative Triad of Sandra Guy, McCourt Thomas and Caroline Leech

The weather is finally turning cooler, which means that my brain just might begin to work again. In the summer I feel that all my intellectual ability is baked out of me by the summer sun. Now that it is officially autumn, or at least less than 100 degrees, I’m happy to share with you some of the writing techniques and tips from three of my favorite author friends: Caroline Leech, McCourt Thomas and Sandra Guy. Recently, this trio of talent participated in an around the world blog hop. For those unfamiliar with the term, a blog hop is simply when a topic, theme or set of questions is responded to on various blogs across the internet.

Please check out information about their creative practices and feel free to send me your own ideas about creativity at melissaburon@sbcglobal.net.

Why do I write what I do?

Caroline Leech

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For the buzz! I get the biggest thrill when I am writing, when words are flying round my brain in random patterns before crashing onto the page in some semblance of order. It’s the thrill that comes from finding just the right word, or creating just the perfect phrase to capture the image in your head so that others can share it. It comes from hearing a character’s voice so clearly in your head that all you have to do is take down what they say as dictation and put quote marks around it. It comes from planning in detail a scene where two people are standing talking to each other in a farmyard, only to find that when you start writing it that a delivery boy suddenly appears up the road on his bike. He’s uninvited and unexpected, but he takes the whole story down a wonderful path which you would never have found without his help.

McCourt Thomas

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I like to challenge myself with different formats. Sometimes I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing – because it’s definitely challenging! So a project often comes to mind because I enjoy books with a certain style of writing, and wonder if I can pull it off. For example, my current middle grade novel has five first person points of view. I decided to write it that way because I personally like books with several points of view. Have I succeeded with it? I’m not sure. I’ll let you know when I finish! It’s entirely possibly that I’ll end up rewriting the whole thing in third person or from just one character’s point of view, but I wanted to give it a try. Another love of mine is epistolary novels (novels written as letters, or these days, even e-mails back and forth). So I’m thinking my next project will be in an epistolary format – I just have to figure out what the story will be!

Sandra Guy

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I could quote the Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day” in response to this question. Why do I write what I do? Because I don’t have the answers and it’s only in writing what I see and feel that I know it is sometimes enough that I remember to ask the questions. I do know how to pay attention though, and I can still fall into long grass on my knees, feeling idle and blessed.

There is something about the speed of our lives today that is squeezing the magic of true connection out of the world. Maybe, if we make time to read and conjure up the images created by the words of gifted writers or if we find time to contemplate the complicated eyes of a dragonfly, we can bring it back again. Catching and sharing a little of that magic is why I tell the stories I tell.

When Mary Oliver asks at the end of that same poem –

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?”

I proudly reply – I write stories to help us remember.

(To hear the wonderful Mary Oliver reading “The Summer Day” please checkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16CL6bKVbJQ)

How does your writing process work?

Caroline Leech

I’d like to tell you how organized and disciplined I am about sitting down in a peaceful office at a tidy desk where I can write to a set daily word count. But in reality, most of my writing is done in the buzz of Barnes and Noble café in whatever hours each week I can grab. I often go to our local Starbucks at 6am on a Sunday morning, so I can get a good three or four hours’ work done before my household gets going for the day. Although Starbucks is always deserted when I arrive at that time of the morning, I have often found that I get so focused on what I am writing, I can look up suddenly and discover that the place is packed and its 9am.

How do I write? I am most certainly a planner and not a pantser (a writer who likes to fly by the seat of his or her pants, with no plot plan as a guide). With both my novels, I have not started writing until I have created a full chapter breakdown of the story and rough character sketches of the main players. I might not know how my character navigates his way through a scene, but I must know where he needs to get to by the end.

Even with this kind of detailed planning, however, sometimes I have reached a fork in my plot road and haven’t known exactly which way to go. Just recently I wrote a conversation which was interrupted by a knock at the door. I discovered that I didn’t know who was knocking (I know that might sound weird, given that I was in charge of the knocking!) It could have been one of two people but I wasn’t sure which it should be and I felt rather panicked. I could see a rough path which would take me from each person through to the next chapter where I needed to be, but I just couldn’t take that first step on one path by typing the name of one person standing on the doorstep. It took me two days of fiddling around with another part of the manuscript, letting my mind wrestle with my door-knocker dilemma, before I could go back and type that name.

McCourt Thomas

I usually write at home, but I’m also a big fan of writing at the library. It helps me sometimes to get out, so I don’t feel guilty about the never-ending list of things that need to be done around the house. When I first started writing and the kids didn’t have as many evening activities, I used to go to the library every Monday night to write while my husband took care of the kids. That’s where I really started on my writing journey and wrote my very first picture book manuscripts. I loved that uninterrupted writing time, and was so grateful that my whole family supported my writing efforts. I’d love to add that evening writing time once a week back to my schedule – but we’ll have to see how this school year’s activities and my graduate school classes pan out. I think I’ll probably still be typing away in my car for years to come!

Sandra Guy

I’m easily caught by ideas. Almost anything can get me going – the juxtaposition of old and new, dark and light, male and female. Once I’ve felt the shiver of a story or character close by, I let it take up residency in me. I create a world around it and explore facets of the one it has come from, burying myself in books on the same subject or visuals of the time period or place where the story is happening. I don’t start writing until I can see the world my protagonist lives in and hear his or her voice in my head. And I usually only begin when I can say the opening paragraph of that unwritten story out loud.

Once I start I’m hooked. I write three or four hours a day, starting at the beginning of the story and working all the way through to the end of my first draft. I write at least a chapter a day sometimes more, always leaving the writing on a cliff hanger so I can slip back into the story easily the next day.

After I’ve written myself out (I’m generally less productive after three hours of new writing), I work on the more technical side of a piece – the mechanics of plot and pacing, the writing of different lengths of synopses, the balancing out of conflict and story sags. I write monologues that won’t appear in the book. I draw charts connecting characters and flow diagrams connecting time and space and keep them in clear coloured files. When I finish writing for the day, my white glass desk is immaculate but the room I’m writing in is awash with images – mood boards for characters and places that appear in the story, odd details in photos torn from glossy magazines – anything that allows me to bathe in the essence of the story I’m working on without actually writing more of it.

Once I have a first draft I tend to leave it for a month to let it settle. Then I go back, hopefully with fresher eyes, and read it with a view to revising. And my revision process, well now, that’s a whole other story. . .

You can learn even more about each of these creatives on their websites. Sandra  is at http://www.sandraguy.com. McCourt can be found at http://mccourtthomas.blogspot.com. And the lovely Caroline is at http://www.carolineleech.com.

Wishing everyone happy creating and a very happy fall!

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Writing Process Blog Hop!

Merci and gracias to both Caroline Leech and Sandra Guy for inviting me to participate on this wonderful blog hop about the writing process!

What am I working on?

Sometimes I think a better question is what am I not working on. In addition to family life, I have a day job as a librarian in a local elementary school. Mix that up with my indie publishing company MAB Media and my own writing, things are rather busy.

On the strictly writing part, I am in the middle of three different projects that I have promised myself will some day be finished! One is a middle grade ghost story, the other an urban fantasy (which I am writing with the awesome Sandra Guy) and finally an adult fantasy novel.

Why do I write?

I write because I don’t have a choice. Really, I would probably do anything buy write if I could. It is so difficult 99% of the time. I have actually tried on multiple occasions to quit writing. The last time I did this I even went and told all of my writing friends that my writing career was over. Then I started a publishing company a few weeks later. Go figure.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?

I write almost always in the genres of fantasy or even magical realism. Where my writing differs is in the fact that even though the situations surroounding my characters are fraught with danger and power, I still find a way to make my characters as real as possible, complete with bad attitudes, zits and flaws.

How does my writing process work?

Again, it is easier to say what doesn’t work. In Leonard Marcus’ amazing tome, Dear Genius, the editor extrodinarire Ursula Nordstrom begs one of her authors to never have a family. Ms. Nordstrom knew that the boundaries of family and home were often too constraining for a writer. As I type this I have just slammed my office door in defense of the noises coming out of the kitchen (part of which I should say in the fire alarm because I burnt most of the dinner). That being said, I find it very difficult to write in an empty house. For a few years I worked as a free-lance marketing and ad copy professional. I never seemed to make it out of my yoga pants – or even do yoga for that matter. I’m much happier and productive grabbing five minutes here, eight minutes there towards my projects and goals.  Which is good since that works rather well with my family’s schedule.

Two wonderful writers who will continue this blog hop are McCourt Thomas and JoAn Watson.

McCourt Thomas has to be one of the funniest people I have ever met. Everytime I chat with her she leaves me in stiches. She’s a wife, mother, volunteer, writer, reader, and currently a graduate student in library science at Texas Woman’s University. (Go Librarians!) She has a degree in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and before staying home with her four (!) kids, she was a television news producer. Her favorite TV show to watch while folding laundry is House Hunters International, which has led to a not-so-secret desire to live overseas. She’s currently enjoying the “Hero’s Guide” series by Christopher Healey on audiobook, and reading about 10 other books at the same time.

Check out her blog at http://mccourtthomas.blogspot.com.

I had the pleasure of meeting JoAn via the SCBWI-Houston chapter. Now we are co-workers as we both write for the same independent newspaper. After teaching in Baytown schools for 22 years, she retired, but continued as a reading/writing consultant for Houston area schools. Her most recent novel is Pine Cones and Magnolia Blossoms (2013) available in print and an E Book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can learn more about JoAn and her writing process on her blog at http://josbookblog.wordpress.com.

Happy Writing!

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Interview with Barbara Younger

Barbara and Grandson Mazen

Most people consider me a relatively positive person, but I pale in comparison to the author and blogger Barbara Younger. A successful author of over twenty books, Barbara somehow finds time to blog about her experience with menopause and endometrial cancer. Her creative gifts are apparent as she deftly discusses these topics with humor and grace. Recently, I caught up with Barbara to chat with her about her blogs, her books and her adorable grandson, Mazen.

How did you decide to become a writer?

When I was in third grade, our teacher gave us a writing prompt, something about a silver loving cup discovered in a horse barn. A shy child, I wasn’t happy when she made us read our stories out loud. After I read mine, she said, “Barbara, your story is really good.” In that moment, I understood that I might have a way with words. 

In fifth grade, I won First Prize in an Archie comic book writing contest, and in sixth grade, I won two school writing contests. Those early successes showed me how it feels to have others appreciate my writing and probably gave me the courage I’ve needed to endure hundreds of rejection letters.

Where did you grow up and how did where you grew up shape your writing?

I grew up in Towson, a Baltimore suburb. Our schools were good, and they stressed reading and writing. Our libraries were good, too! My home was a creative one, filled with books, music, art, dogs and cats, and lively conversation.

How has being a mother and grandmother changed you as a writer?

As a mom to two girls, I learned the struggles kids go through and what’s important to them. As the grandmother of a little boy, I’ve discovered that toy trucks have personalities. They can even eat oatmeal and take a sip of milk. Who knew! I hope to write a truck picture book in the next few months.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I do my best fresh writing in the morning when I’m the most energetic. I’d like to figure out how to work harder and longer and not be so influenced by energy and mood. A challenge! I’m happy editing any time. Chopping and rearranging words  are favorite activities.

Describe some of the books and authors who have influenced you as a writer.

As a kid, I was nuts over Beverly Clearly, and as a young children’s librarian, I loved Judy Blume’s Fudge books. In recent years I’ve admired the whimsy of Polly Horvath; the depth of Kevin Henke’s novels; and my friend Lisa Doan’s The Berenson Schemes, where funny things happen fast.

Blogging has sparked an interest in creative nonfiction and humor writing. I’m studying two masters, Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron, for their ability to capture what’s amusing, confounding, and significant about the stuff of every day.

What are you working on now?

I put lots of time into my blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster, selected by Healthline as one of the top menopause blogs of 2014. I’ve recently recovered from endometrial cancer and am having a wonderful time blogging my experience. (Yes, wonderful. Cancer has some hidden rewards.) 

I’ve got a novel in progress, Eva Heaven and the Summer Pie Blog. I’ve had trouble letting the main character sing, so I’m soon to start another round. My insightful agent, Erzsi Deak, suggests Eva is too full of herself. Hoping to fix that!

I’m pleased to have fourteen selections in Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion by June Cotner and Nancy Tupper Ling, coming this fall from Viva Editions.

I’m the author of 21 books. You can read more about them on my writer’s website, BarbaraKyounger.com

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

No appearances at the moment but I’m always looking for guests posts for Friend for the Ride. It’s okay if you’re young! We’ll find a topic that suits you. If you’ve got a book you’d like me to promote, I’ll buy a copy and offer it as a giveaway to go along with your post. Email me at BKYounger at gmail.com. Thanks!

You can read more about Barbara at her blog https://friendfortheride.wordpress.com and purchase her books at your local bookstore or online book seller. 

 

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Interview with Julie Hedlund

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In the heat of summer, it’s easy to get discouraged with your artistic endeavors when all you want to do is swing on a hammock and eat popsicles. For a shot of instant energy and inspiration, I invited the talented and energetic Julie Hedlund to chat about her writing process and creative journey. Julie Hedlund is a celebrated children’s author, as well as a freelance journalist, inspirational speaker, international workshop coordinator. She also publishes a blog full of advice for the novice to the expert writer.

Describe your creative journey to becoming an author.

Whew! That’s a tough one. It was very circuitous.

My journey started by being a READER. I don’t think I’ve gone one day without a book since I was six years old. Besides friends, family, and pets, there wasn’t (and isn’t) anything in the world I loved more than books. As I child, the love of reading grew into the love of making up my own stories. My favorite game was “pretend,” and I suppose it still is.

But being an author was never something I really thought I could do. I’m not sure why, but I just decided somewhere along the way that I needed a “practical” career with more security. I graduated from The University of Michigan with a Political Science degree and then went to graduate school in England to get an MA in International Political Economy. I spent 13 years after that working in electronic banking and payments.

If I ever DID think about writing a book, it was always novels, since that is what I love to read the most. But after I had children of my own. I rediscovered the child reader in me by reading to them. I began writing children’s picture books and fell in love with the genre. I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), worked very hard to learn the craft and business of writing for children, and never looked back. A few years ago I left my job to pursue my writing career full time.

Please tell us about your 12 x 12 project.

12 x 12 is a picture book writing challenge where participants aim to write one picture book draft a month for each month of the year (12 drafts in 12 months). The idea is to keep the creative juices and motivation flowing to increase the output of work.

The challenge is now in its third year and we have 750 participants. There are many features and benefits beyond the community, and all of that information is available on my website at http://www.juliehedlund.com/12-x-12.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

There is no such thing as a normal writing workday.

Seriously. I know some writers are religious about writing a certain number of words or pages or hours at specific times each day, but I am most definitely not one of them.

Part of the reason is there are other aspects of my job, like running 12 x 12, that take up my time, but mostly its because my personality doesn’t lend itself to strict routine. I’ve learned to jump on creative bursts and allow myself breaks when I need them. I am ALWAYS writing in my head and more often than not I find that by the time I sit back down to actually put words on the page, I’ve already sorted out a lot of the issues in my mind.

However, I will say that having accountability is critical for me. In addition to my own attempt to write and revise at least one draft each month, I set other deadlines for myself – to get a final draft to my agent, to have a manuscript ready for a workshop, etc. I have one-year, five-year, and ten-year goals for the number of books I’d like to publish. Having those kind of goals keeps me from staying away from the writing too long.

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

I mainly write picture books for children and nonfiction in the form of blog posts and newsletters for adult fellow writers. The process is VERY different. For me, writing blog posts, newsletters, and presentations comes quickly and easily as a result of my business writing experience.

Writing picture books requires a great deal more patience and care and LOTS of editing and revising.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

For adult fiction, I gravitate toward literary authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Gregory Maguire, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, John Irving, Hilary Mantle, etc.

For children’s books, there are simply too many to name so I always limit myself to my all-time favorite, which is Jane Yolen. She has written more than 300 books for children of all ages across many themes, both fiction and nonfiction, and they are all excellent.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

There is only one for a writer to become an author (aka published). Within the genre or genres you want to write, you need to: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Revise, revise, revise. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Beyond that, it’s critical to find a community whether it is an association of writers or a writing group or, preferably, both. You need to study the market for publication standards in your genre. You need to give your work time to percolate and grow and get better.

Most of all, you need to be persistent. Most people give up once they face hardship and rejection. Both are a fact of the writing life. The key is to believe in yourself and your work and to keep writing. If you do that, eventually success will come.

What are you working on now?

I am finalizing several of my existing picture book manuscripts to get them (hopefully) ready for submission to editors. I recently started work on a picture book biography, and I have ideas for both a middle grade historical fiction and a young adult nonfiction book that I’m eager to get cracking on. I used to say I’ll never have time to read all of the books I want to read. Now I have to add I’ll never have time to WRITE all the books I want to write.

My next book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, releases on September 9th. Please checkout the website: http://myloveforyouisthesun and book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ_K23UE-gg

To learn more about Julie Hedlund and purchase her books, please visit her website at http://www.juliehedlund.com

 

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Interview with Constance Van Hoven

ConstanceIt’s the middle of the summer, the kids are out of school and most people’s brains have all but melted in the Texas heat and humidity. Luckily for me, I was able to chat this week with the delightful and bright Constance Van Hoven, which gave my brain enough of an artic blast of smart to get me through the rest of the summer. As an author for all ages, Constance has a special spot in her heart for her home state of Minnesota. One of her picture books, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Minnesota, is especially delightful to read during one of our long Texan summer afternoons.

 

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

 

I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, but spent many wonderful summers on my grandmother’s farm near Red Cloud, Nebraska. Today, I split my time between St. Paul and Bozeman, Montana where our two daughters and their families live.

 

Describe your creative journey.

 

My creative journey as a writer began with my mother who was a kindergarten teacher and loved children’s books. Books were our birthday and Christmas gifts. In college I majored in English, took lots of creative writing classes. After college I worked as a buyer for a chain of specialty toy and book stores in the Twin Cities. Over the years, I found I loved working with children’s book authors who visited our stores and longed to be one of them. I took writing classes locally and then went to Vermont College and finished their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. It was a life changing experience for me. In 2009 I wrote THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN MINNESOTA (Sterling) and in 2011 HELLO! MINNESOTA (Sterling). Both projects were enormously fun to write and I was so fortunate to have great illustrators for both books. Mike Wohnoutka for the holiday book and David Walker for the board book.

 

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

 

Normal work day? That’s a tough one. I strive to write for several hours in the morning, churning out three or four pages of my current project and then spend afternoons revising, catching up on research, reading emails, etc. A late afternoon walk with my husband and our extremely energetic puppy gives me time to ponder ideas and problems. Oh, and I’m addicted to lemon drops and pretzel chunks while I’m working.

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

I have many favorite writers who inspire my work. Joan Bauer and Richard Peck are at the top of my list. Every one of Joan’s books is chock full of great humor and lots of heart. Richard Peck’s writing is so wise. I loved Katherine Applegate’s, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. The structure of it and the way it conveyed the emotions of the animals was amazing. For picture books, I never tire of William Steig’s work. Also Martin Waddell. Both authors write stories with humor and warmth.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

 

My advice to inspiring writers is familiar: read, read, read. Join a writer’s group, take classes and write for the joy it gives you, not fame or fortune.

What are you working on now?

 

I’m currently working on a middle grade novel. It’s history, mystery and ghost story. I’m also compiling a collection of letters my dad wrote. He was a computer pioneer and a pretty darn good writer. At present, the project is a labor of love for my family, but who knows what it might turn into!

 

Do you have any good news to share?

 

I’m proud to say that my picture book, THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN MINNESOTA, is going into its 6th printing this fall!

To learn more about Constance Van Hoven please stop by her web site at http://www.constancevanhoven.com and be sure to check-out her books at your local library or indie book store!

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Interview with Claudia Classon

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With the advent of ebooks, the short story is enjoying a renaissance with adults and adolescents alike. One of the most prolific short story authors of late is the award winning writer Claudia Classon. Recently I caught up to with Ms. Classon and quizzed her about her background, influences and upcoming projects.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now? How has your geography shaped your writing?

I was born a New Yawkuh. I spent my first six years in the Bronx (where my ancestors had lived for over 70 years), then my family moved to Westchester county and that’s where I lived for my childhood and most of my adult life. In 2005 my husband’s company sent us overseas to Paris for three years, and when we moved back, it was to Princeton, NJ. I’m definitely more comfortable writing about locations with which I’m most familiar, so my novel TREEHUGGER (not yet published) is set in a fictitious village in the Hudson Valley, and my short stories published in SUCKER Literary Magazine are set in and around New York and the suburbs.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I try to work most days, even if I’m only re-reading and thinking about how to approach a new or revised scene. When I’m in the middle of a revision, as I am now, or working on something new, I’ll fit in as much writing time as I can. I have a part-time job in publishing that I go to three days a week, so on those days I usually work in the evenings. In any case, I’m not an early riser, so I do better work at night.

You are a very successful author of short stories. How does crafting a short story differ from creating longer works?
Thank you for that “very.” ☺
It’s like the difference between writing a piano etude and a symphony. Most short stories focus on a limited number of characters and generally have only one main plot. A novel tells a larger story, has sub-plots, features a greater number of characters, and weaves together complex relationships between these various elements. A thing they have in common is the same rules of narrative structure: Beginning, rising action, conflict, climax, denouement. Breaking the rules in a short story is a bit easier, though, and is often done. You can also write a non-linear novel, but it’s probably not something I would attempt.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I never know how to narrow down this list. Definitely Shakespeare and Tolkien (no “why” necessary). As for YA lit…I have to start with Laurie Halse Anderson, because Speak was an epiphany for me—the main character’s voice and her problem were like nothing I’d ever read in a teen book and it made me want to write for the kind of reader who could connect with that book. I adore Richard Peck’s books for their brilliant characters and sly social commentary. Lauren Oliver has taught me so much about wrenching emotions out of your characters, plus her prose is superb. Gary Schmidt, Jack Gantos, and Sherman Alexie have given me a better idea of boy-perspective, plus they know how to write funny. Neil Gaiman and Libba Bray can make the absurd seem real. I’ll stop here, but not because there aren’t others.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

-You gotta be in it to win it: Don’t just picture yourself as an author. Write, often. Too many would-be writers are too scared or too self-conscious to start.
– Learn the rules so you can break them. There are rules for what constitutes good narrative writing. Some people can absorb and use them just by reading well-written books or books on writing technique. Others benefit from taking writing courses. Whatever way works for you, learn the rules before you try to break them.
– Start with a molehill, not a mountain. Practice plotting short stories before you try to tackle a novel. Work with a limited number of characters and subplots. Once you get the hang of it, you can tackle Mt. Everest. Many writers have a complete story arc in mind before they start writing (e.g., novice J.K. Rowling who had a SEVEN BOOK story arc planned before she started to write the Harry Potter series—jeesh).
– Open your mind to the world. Almost everyone writes about what they know, so learn as much as you can about things that interest you. Travel. Read. Let people share their stories with you.
– Read, read, read. Read everything. Then when you know what it is you like to write about, immerse yourself in that type of literature. I keep a list of all the books I’ve read—particularly children’s and YA fiction. In the past ten years, I have read over 750 YA and middle grade books—I just counted them, honest.

What are you working on now?

My main project right now is a full revision of my YA novel TREEHUGGER, a contemporary romance/thriller. I recently found a wonderful writing group in Princeton—I had been searching for one for over five years! I met two of the group’s members at a SCBWI function last fall, and they have been critiquing the revision as it goes along. I also have a couple of picture book ideas out with my agent, Erzsi Deàk of Hen & Ink. I’m exploring turning one of the ideas into a chapter book series. And I have a couple of novel fragments and short stories that may need to be revisited in the future.

What are you reading right now?

I’m often reading old-and-new at the same time. Since I am not that familiar with chapter books, I’ve been coming home from the library with armfuls of classic chapter books to consult (Ivy and Bean, Junie B. Jones, etc.). As for YA, I just finished Lauren Oliver’s new book Panic, which I loved. I recently read both of Rainbow Rowell’s books (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park). Red Rising is the impressive first book in a new SF series by Pierce Brown, and I devoured the first two books in Michelle Gagnon’s PERSEFONE trilogy (Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Now)—I can’t wait for the third book. All these authors were “upcoming” in the not-so-distant past.

Check-out more about Claudia’s work at her blog, http://wordprowler.blogspot.com/ and discover her short stories and much more in the literary magazine, Sucker Literary available at http://www.suckerliterary.com/.

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Picture Books, Uncategorized

Interview with Alayne Kay Christian

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Everyone’s creative spark can be lit at different times and places. For example, Alayne Kay Christian was a writer all of her life, but it wasn’t until the birth of her granddaughter that she was inspired to create a picture book. Recently Alayne took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about her creative process, the ins and outs of publishing and also her amazing agent (and mine!) Erzsi Deak.

How did you decide to become a writer and a publisher?

I have written most of my life. When my long-distance granddaughter was born, I wanted her to always feel close to Grandma and Grandpa even across the miles. So, for her second birthday, I wrote and illustrated a book for her. The book was titled CLOSE TO YOU. Each person at the birthday party who read the book, ended up with tears welling in their eyes and saying, “You have to publish this.”
Their reactions and comments were wonderful compliments. An even bigger compliment was my husband pushing me to try to get the book published. My husband was really the one who decided to become a publisher – that’s just the kind of guy he is. After a year of pushing me to try to get my book published, I told him that I didn’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published. He said, “I’ll publish it.” He up and started a publishing company because that’s the kind of guy he is 😉 Last year, he did a guest post on my blog titled WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A PUBLISHER? He didn’t cover everything, but he painted a pretty good picture of what it took for him to achieve this challenge.
By the time the editors, illustrator, and book designer were done, my book was quite different from my original handmade book, and the title had changed to BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA.
As for me, once the book arrived and the impressive reviews and awards starting pouring in, I was hooked. I had to learn more about the kid lit industry, and I was driven to write, and write, and write some more.

Where did you grow up and how did where you grew up shape your writing?

I grew up in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Although, I have some stories in the back of my mind that are inspired by where and how I grew up, I don’t think, so far, that the actual place has shaped my writing. I do think growing up in the city shaped me as a person, and my writing comes from me, so there is that. However, I believe that spending time in the country as a child shaped me equally. Each summer, as a child, my family went to stay on my grandparents’ farm in Minnesota. I tend to think that my experiences in the country shape my writing most. Exploring the countryside, fishing the lakes, playing in the river, smelling the barn . . . I could go on for days. These experiences filled me with a love for nature and a sense of freedom that remains with me. I think the last line of the bio on my book jacket sums it up pretty well. “Alayne’s writing shares the creative spirit and kinship with nature that organically resides in her heart.” I think I was born with that creative spirit and kinship with nature, but I believe my days in the country as a child brought them to life. They organically reside in my heart. As an adult, being in the country or having any opportunity to be with nature or in wide-open spaces feeds my soul and renews my creative spirit.
What has changed in your life since your picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was published?
Because my book has been quite successful, by independently published standards, I am much more confident in my knowledge and ability to write, submit, and publish. Also the experience lead me down a path of taking classes, reading books, and learning from other’s in the writing/publishing industry. I now know how to go about submitting my work to agents and editors. I also know how to publish a high quality book, market a book, and work with distributors. I know what it feels like to read my words to a group of children and see their excitement and joy. I know what it feels like to have my mother call and tell me that my book is in her library system. I know what it feels like when my book shows up in my own library system, and my granddaughter thinks I’m famous because of it. I know what it’s like to hear an excited granddaughter tell me her library now has her grandma’s book on the shelf, and BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA will be featured in her neighborhood’s bookmobile. I’ll step away from the hearts and flowers and move on to some other ways things have changed for me. I now have an agent. I signed with the fabulous Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio, late last year. I belong to a huge and supportive writing community, which includes SCBWI and 12 x 12. I belong to critique groups. I’m branching out from picture books into early chapter books. I have a blog, and I have founded groups to support other writers. I do everything I can to help other writers, so that they never have to say, “I don’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published.”

How has being a mother and grandmother changed you as a writer?

As I mentioned above, my writing career really started with the birth of my long-distance granddaughter. The same week we agreed to leave Chicago and move to North Carolina, we also learned our daughter was pregnant. The emotions I felt lead me to writing my first picture book. I’ve carried numerous picture book ideas with me for many years, but I’m not sure that I would have ever written a picture book if not for my granddaughter. I’m pretty excited about writing chapter books that she can read now that she’s older. It is a perfect next step.
On my website for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, I offer my story MAKING PEACE WITH BEING A LONG-DISTANCE GRANDPARENT. I share my experience and the thought process that inspired the book.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
One of my favorite parts of my writing workday is to lie in bed in the morning and think. I get story ideas. I solve story problems. I fill in story plots. I believe that is when I’m most connected to my creative spirit. After fifteen to thirty minutes of connecting time, I am ready to go. I spend several hours writing, revising, reading, studying, or whatever is on my agenda for that day. I take a break to exercise, run errands, and have lunch. I write a couple more hours in the afternoon and take a break to do a little around the house. If there is time, I do writing related tasks for a few more hours before dinner.

Describe some of the books and authors who have influenced you as a writer.

Tammi Sauer has influenced me because of her rapid success. I’m sure it doesn’t feel rapid to her, but in my eyes, it’s like boom, boom, boom – book, book, book. Tammi first caught my attention at the 2011 SCBWI North Texas conference where I heard her speak. I took her breakout sessions, and I sat with her at lunch. She never failed to impress. I believe three of her picture books were released that year. Since the conference, another seven Tammi Sauer picture books have been released. She reads and speaks to massive crowds of children year round. It is just plain fun to watch her career. She inspires me, and I think there is much to be learned from her and her works.
I am also impressed with Kathryn Otoshi and her successful, independent published books: ONE; ZERO; and soon to be released TWO. She and her books are proof that quality independent published books and their authors and illustrators warrant respect and recognition.
Up and coming picture book authors that influence me are:
Corey Rosen Schwartz –
THREE NINJA PIGS
Newly released GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS
Soon to be released NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.
Tara Lazar – THE MONSTORE and her upcoming book (2015) I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK.
Studying the books and the journeys of each of the above authors offer a different learning experience. They are all great inspirations to me.
Believe me, there are many other authors who inspire or influence me than those I mentioned above. And there are far too many books to even begin trying to mention them all. I limited my answer to the first several authors or books that popped into my mind.
I wanted to talk about chapter books and books on writing, but I think I already took up too much space with the above. Maybe another day.

What are you working on now?

My top priority is to convert some picture books to early chapter books. In addition, I have a goal to get some sellable picture book manuscripts in Erzsi’s hands, so she can start getting some of my work out there. I am also brewing new picture books and polishing old manuscripts. I’m working on taking advantage of a couple unused rooms in my home and making one room my writing space and the other my brainstorming, thinking, and meditating space. And just to shake up my creativity, I’m also planning on doing a few character sketches and going back to some old-fashioned handwritten manuscripts.

You can learn more about Alayne Kay Christian on her website
http://www.alaynekaychristian.com and purchase her wonderful picture book online or at your favorite local bookstore

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Uncategorized, Writing General

Interview with Caryn Caldwell

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Caryn Caldwell is a pre-published, award-winning author who like many of us (me included) are sandwiching our writing life between children, husbands, day-jobs and the occasional cat. Recently I got to chat with the delightful Ms. Caldwell about writing, time management and the drive to create.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I am a child of the Ohio suburbs, but I always dreamed of moving west. I now live in Utah (by way of Colorado), with easy access to both the desert and the mountains — just the way I like it.

What were your favorite books as a child? What was the first book that you fell in love with?

It’s almost impossible for me to list favorite childhood books because I read everything I could, and I loved everything I read. It wasn’t until I grew up that I became much pickier. If I HAD to narrow it down, though, I’d say that I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Christopher Pike and was a big fan of anything that won the Newbery. My brother and I also spent many wonderful hours listening to my mom read The Boxcar Children series aloud to us.

What happened that made you decide to become a writer?

I knew I could never be a writer when I grew up. Authors were these amazing creatures, completely untouchable and hallowed. Still, I always enjoyed writing and did it consistently until, one day, I wondered if I actually could write a whole book. Not a publishable book. Not even a good one. Just a book. As soon as I typed THE END on that first one, I was hooked. I wrote several more for practice before I even began to look for an agent.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write by so many things. Sometimes it’s just the sheer fun of figuring out a puzzling plot piece or finding just the right word. Sometimes I have ideas I want to explore or characters to play with, and writing is one way to do that. When things are very hard and I’m having trouble finding the motivation, I remind myself how far I’ve come. I don’t want all that work to be in vain. Plus there’s no high like the one that comes from a successful day at the keyboard — except reading those words again later and realizing that, hey, they aren’t too bad!

How have your various day (and night) jobs (mom, librarian, teacher) shaped your writing?

It’s tough to find the time to write while also being a mom and having a day job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have the other stuff to pull me away, I would probably become a hermit, and I’d quickly run out of things to write about. Having other activities also gives me structure and helps me manage my time better. I can’t put off my writing because I don’t have the flexibility to do so; as a result, I am better about focusing during my allotted time than I probably would be otherwise. That said, whenever I have long breaks I love to dive into the world of my story, and it can be very difficult to surface again.

Describe your creative process – early mornings? late nights? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey?

My daughter goes to a full-time preschool/daycare, and I work in the afternoons/evenings, so morning has become my writing time. That works well since I’m freshest in the mornings. When I’m trying to get the words down, though, it can be fun to write very late at night when I’m too tired for my internal editor to surface. Some of my favorite lines have come out when I’ve been falling asleep at the keyboard, just letting the words pour out. Thank goodness I have mornings to revise with a wide-awake brain!

When writing, I always have water beside me, and I frequently have music — usually songs I’ve heard so many times that I barely notice them, but that I still enjoy. Eating gets in the way of my writing, so I’m not much of a snacker. Cats interfere, too, but they make good company, and mine needy so I let them stay. When sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram call to me, I use a special program that bans me from the internet. I work extra hard so I can earn that social networking time.

What books and/or authors have shaped you as a writer?

Honestly, I think every book I’ve ever read has shaped me in some way. They’ve widened my vocabulary and reinforced my school lessons on grammar and punctuation. The ones I enjoyed also taught me about story structure, voice, character-building, etc. The ones I didn’t enjoy taught me what not to do (or, at least, what doesn’t work for me). Reading has been especially helpful now that I’ve become a writer, since I read with a more analytical eye, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

How did you find your agent?

I had just begun querying my previous book when a popular writers’ blog mentioned an open call for Hen & Ink. I visited the website and liked what I found there, so I queried. I loved Erzsi’s enthusiasm during our email correspondence, and when she offered representation I was impressed by what her clients had to say about her, so I happily signed on.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a young adult contemporary romance. The premise is under wraps for now, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to sharing it when the time is right.

If people are interested in learning more about your work, where can they find you?

I have a website at http://www.caryncaldwell.com. It has more information on my books, as well as a blog. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among other sites (all of which are linked to on my website). I love to connect and hope to see you online!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/caryncaldwell

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcaryncaldwell

Instagram: http://instagram.com/caryncaldwell